Weekender: Saturday In The Park With Dawgs

This weekend I missed my third consecutive Midnight Ridazz, then the 3rd annual Tamale Festival, as well as a chance to hop onboard the “No, David Markland Is Not A Racist Pig” bandwagon, all because instead my wife and I with our two dawgz drove out Friday Night to Death Valley National Park’s remote Eureka Valley and basically lucked into the Best Camping Trip Evar by having that vast magnificent expanse — including the 700-foot tall Eureka Dunes — all to ourselves.

Click to triplify Ranger, Me and Shadow trekking across a Eureka Dunes plateau. Photo by Susan Campbell.

Literally: to us alone. It was as if someone installed a velvet rope, a doorman and a posted sign at the head of the road some 10 miles north that read “Dunes Closed For Private Party.”

A couple more photos and further details after the jump.

From the outset it was to be a quick trip, with us renting a Ford Escape and packing up gear, provisions, and animals and hitting the road Friday evening for a full day there only to pack up and come back Sunday morning. Yeah, we’re weird to bookend what amounts to a single day with 5- 6 hours of driving on each end, but what the hell.


As planned we were loaded up and on the road at 8 p.m. Friday on a 300-mile route that took us up the 5 to the 14 to the 395 past Olancha and Lone Pine and Independence and on up to the town of Big Pine where we hung a right on Highway 168 for the last 40 miles winding our way up through the ancient bristlecone pines of Inyo National Forest before dropping down into Eureka Valley and leaving the pavement behind for a washboardy but passable dirt road that brought us to Eureka Dunes Road where we turned right and made our way along the final 10 miles dodging the occasional brazen jackrabbits that jumped out in front of us along the way.

Arrival time: 1:30 a.m. Campground: empty. Motivation/need to set up the tent right away: none. So we slept in the SUV until dawn’s first light when we stepped away from the vehicle and found it cold but not freezing and entirely blessedly windless. And completely deserted…. not counting the unseen coyotes conversating back and forth from opposite ends of the dunes.

That we were in the middle of nowhere at daybreak with nothing else on two legs in the immediate vicinity might seem like a well, duh! to some of you, but trust me: having made at least one trip a year out to the Valley of Death since 2002 and it being a holiday weekend (Veterans Day, but still), it is a rare thing to be so thoroughly and absolutely unencroached upon — even at such an out-of-the-way place. And so we reveled in the surprise solitude as the sun peeked over the western side of the valley and immediately set to warming things up to the low ’80s.


We hiked up the dunes, came back, drank beer, napped, sat and did nothing, listened to the hugesoundless emptiness, had dinner, toasted marshmallows and drank cheap red wine. There were the inevitable daytrippers who showed up, marched around the grains for a bit and then left. The next day we too were gone by 10 a.m., leaving us enough time for a somber visit to the Manzanar Relocation Camp before heading back to the big city where I’m already mulling plans for our next visit to such a magical, mystical place — and we’ll camp directly on the dunes then! Hell Yeah!

My Flickr photoset of the excursion is here. My wife Susan’s is here.

9 thoughts on “Weekender: Saturday In The Park With Dawgs”

  1. If it’s solitude you want, try camping in the Alabama Hills outside of Lone Pine.

    Just drive in and set up camp anywhere you want…keeping in mind that there are no water or toilet facilities.

    The views of Mt. Whitney/Eastern Sierra’s are unsurpassed not to mention the area’s film history

  2. Indeed TUA, I have cabined in the Alabama Hills between Lone Pine and the Sierras and the landscapes and vistas are intense and dramatic. But I’ll have to disagree about the solitude part. There’s a lot of offroaders all over them ‘Bama Hills and they make a buncha noise. I’d take the deafening silence of Eureka Dunes any day.

    @ Bill: Touché.

  3. Will: Oh, for sure those dunes are way more secluded but on the plus side, you can always pop into Lone Pine for yummy buffalo burgers ; )

    Actually, I’ve only seen offroaders once at the spot where I always camp. Sunset usually finds ’em all heading back into town leaving the hills virtually empty.

    I try to go at least once a year during a full moon. Nothing like hiking in high desert at night without flashlights.

  4. Gorgeous photo, Will pass it on to Susan. Great article, I often yearn to be back in that area.

    My most favorite drive in that area is from Stovepipe Wells to Lone Pine. Fund to drive with all the twisty curves, but I can’t speed through as I enjoy the vistas. My absolute most favorite view of the Sierra’s is on this route when you climb up out of Panamint Springs about half way somewhere around Milspaugh where you suddenly make this turn and crest a ridge and there is Mount Whitney and the entire Owens Valley below it. I always stop and just stare.

    I need to do that again soon. Seeing it under the light of a full moon without a single light on around you ranks as one of the most incredible things I have ever seen. (LA from the Angeles Crest under similar circumstances does come close).

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